House Republicans don’t want to touch the select committee on January 6 with a 10-foot pole.
As Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy mulls whom to tap for a congressional investigation into the deadly US Capitol riot — and whether to appoint people at all — Republicans from across the conference are racing to show they have no interest in taking on a politically fraught assignment, particularly lawmakers in difficult reelection races.
There’s even scant interest among the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for inciting the deadly insurrection.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington issued multiple public statements: she told reporters she opposed the select panel and later put out a formal statement making crystal clear she wouldn’t serve on it if asked. New York Rep. John Katko, who brokered a bipartisan deal to establish an independent investigation that was blocked by Senate Republicans, said he has little appetite to participate in a “turbo-charged partisan exercise.” Veteran Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, meanwhile, quipped to CNN: It’s “not on my bucket list.”
Others were equally as blunt.
“No,” said Rep. David Valadao, a vulnerable California Republican who voted to impeach Trump and backed an independent commission.
“Obviously, the politics of it is going to be very, very obvious, and that’s why I supported the commission,” he said.
The anxiety among some Republicans foreshadows what is shaping up to be a partisan brawl that could put a hefty target on their backs, either with constituents or with Trump himself — neither of whom GOP lawmakers are eager to cross. If they don’t sufficiently defend Trump, they are bound to invite outrage from the base. Yet if they deny the former President’s role in the attack on the Capitol, they will be cast as whitewashing history.
So most Republicans would rather keep their heads down as the probe plays out in the House, especially those representing more moderate-leaning districts.
Uncertainty over GOP appointments
What also remains uncertain is whether McCarthy will choose Republican hardliners, including many who voted to overturn the electoral results on January 6 or have publicly downplayed the events of that day. Some of those Republicans have signaled a willingness to serve on the committee, while McCarthy has dodged questions about whether they could win one of the five GOP spots.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who was involved in the GOP strategy to try to overturn the electoral results on January 6, didn’t rule out serving on the panel, saying it “was up to Kevin” to decide whether he should serve.
“My concern is that this would be used as one more vehicle to attack President Trump,” Jordan told CNN.
It’s something of a contrast from Trump’s first impeachment, when Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee — including now-House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York — were propelled to GOP stardom and became fundraising powerhouses after furiously defending the-then President.
But the lack of GOP interest in the select panel, combined with Pelosi’s final say over the selections, makes McCarthy’s job more difficult with his pool of potential selections limited as members steer clear.
So far, only controversial firebrands such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida are openly jockeying for the job.
Some of the Republicans who have said they have no interest in serving on the select panel include Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who represents a district carried by President Joe Biden; Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, a former member of leadership and the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Pelosi on Thursday appointed eight members to the select committee — including Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a move that drew immediate and widespread criticism from the GOP. McCarthy, meanwhile, gets to tap five members under the resolution approved by the House, though the speaker told CNN this week she could veto them.
One Republican floated a GOP colleague who they thought might be a good fit for the panel, only to immediately walk it back out of concern the lawmaker would be upset over the public suggestion — a sign of how toxic the prospect of participating in the committee has become inside the House GOP.
“To any rational member, this is no gift,” said one GOP lawmaker. “It’s pretty un-fun. … The way they designed it, it’s going to be a pretty nasty, partisan fight.”
A private warning
How McCarthy approaches the appointments remains to be seen. He refused to comment on Thursday when asked if he planned to name anyone to the committee.
“When I have news on that, I’ll give it to you,” McCarthy said.
But privately he has warned members that if they accept a Pelosi offer, then they could lose their spots on other committees, a threat that Cheney defied when taking one of the speaker’s eight spots on the panel.
“I think it’s clear to all of the people on this committee that our oath to the Constitution, our duty, our dedication to the rule of law, the peaceful transfer of power has to come above any concern about partisanship or about politics,” Cheney told reporters.
Those calls have failed to sway many Republicans who want nothing to do with the committee.
One moderate Republican, who told CNN they did not want to serve on the select committee because “it could devolve into a political sideshow,” outlined the weight of McCarthy’s threat to strip members of their committee assignments if they accepted an appointment to the committee from Pelosi.
“That would strongly discourage GOP (members) from accepting her appointment,” the lawmaker said.
“I also think members would fear being viewed by voters back home as ‘in bed’ with the speaker. That’s a bigger fear than a threat by Kevin. Although both are powerful.”
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a one-time Democrat who switched to the GOP and could be vulnerable in his New Jersey district next year, made clear he wants nothing to do with the committee.
“I want to work on more bipartisanship and productive legislation,” Van Drew said.
While McCarthy hasn’t said if he would boycott the committee altogether, some of his allies believe he will indeed make his picks and should select Republicans who have expertise in national security or law enforcement.
But for the party’s more moderate and vulnerable members, the assignment is viewed as a potential death knell for their congressional careers — a key reason why 35 House Republicans voted for an outside commission, which would have taken the burden off their plates. Just two Republicans, Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voted on Wednesday in favor of the select panel, where Democrats will have unilateral subpoena power and there is no deadline for when they have to wrap up their investigative work.
“I think the people who opposed (the commission) are gonna see what ends up resulting and wish they might have gone down a different path,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. Fitzpatrick, however, did say he would serve on the panel if McCarthy asked.
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, who opted to not lead his party’s floor debate opposing the select committee this week and attend other business instead, said: “It’s not my favorite duty.”
“I think it’s going to be very contentious and highly polarized and partisan, and so I think we’re probably too close to the (January 6) event,” he said when asked about the select committee.
Cole added: “If I’m asked to do something I certainly would, but so far nobody’s asked.”
He hopes it stays that way.